Loneliness is a Killer! A TEDx Talk and the Story of my Life

One of the central tenets of Positive Psychology is Other People Matter, coined by the late Prof. Christopher Peterson. If you want to learn just how much they matter to your happiness and your health, you might want to watch this TED talk by Prof. John Cacioppo from University of Chicago.

My Story

Now, I perfectly know from my own life what Prof. Cacioppo is talking about. When I was 16, I went to the USA for a year to attend high school and improve my English skills. I left my family and friends behind – platforms such as Skype and Facebook weren’t available (in fact, Mark Zuckerberg probably was entering middle school at that time). I agreed to have a phone call with my parents only every other Sunday – in order not to abet homesickness. Bad idea, most likely…

For reasons which are to complex and difficult to explain (if it can be explained at all – because every person will have a very different vantage point…), this was by far the loneliest year of my life. I found it hard to connect to my guest families and the larger part of my schoolmates.* For most of the time, m closest social connections consisted of other exchange students (during school hours) and the folks I encountered during basketball pick-up games (in the afternoon). Other than that, for most of the year, I felt utterly alone and devoid of warm social connections, let alone love.

I am now perfectly aware what a situation like this does to your body and your soul. When I came to the U.S., I was a healthy and (ordinarily) happy teenager. By the time I went home, I had developed allergy-based asthma, suffered from recurring panic attacks, and was – according to what I´ve learned during my psychology studies later in life –  more than mildly depressed (including, at times, suicidal thoughts). It took me several years to shake all of this off – but I did.

Full Circle

To end this post on a high note (or rather: two high notes), I have to add that even though this was probably the worst year of my life, that doesn´t mean it hasn’t been a valuable experience. On the one hand, it´s a classic case of “What doesn´t kill me makes me stronger“. On the other hand – and that may be a strangely wonderful twist of fate – this year gave my life a whole new direction. The high school I attended offered psychology as an elective course. These two hours or so every week always were among the regular lights at the end of my tunnel. And I think my psychology teacher is the reason why I chose to pursue that profession later on in my life.

And then, there´s this other – equally beautiful and strange – twist of fate. Mappalicious exists as a blog because I was part of the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania – it started as a kind of diary. So, 19 years after what I´ve described above, I spent another year in the U.S. (more precisely, several days per months as travelled back and forth between Germany and Philly). Actually, it all happened only about a hundred miles from where I went to school.

And boy, what a difference it has been. It´s been a year full of human bonding, a time of joy, and caring, and yes: love. And, in the light of my past, it´s been a year of healing. Full circle.

Nico Rose - MAPP - Penn Graduation

* I´m not blaming anybody, because it´s actually nobody´s fault. Let´s just say that U.S. high schools can be a pretty tough environment when you´re not exactly part of the in-crowd…

 

What´s your Favorite Positive Psychology Book? (Poll)

Today, I´d like to know which Positive Psychology Book you like best. I´ve provided a list with 10 of the most popular books (from my point of view). You can pick up to 3 books – or list other books that you prefer. Thanks a lot for your participation. Please share this post so others will vote, too!

Positive_Psychology_Books

22 Positive Psychology-infused Articles every (HR) Leader should know

Positive Organizational ScholarshipPositive Psychology has a lot to offer for leaders, especially those people taking on a leadership role in human resources and people management. In this post, I´ve gathered 22 research articles infused by Positive Psychology (more specifically: Positive Organizational Scholarship) that, in my opinion, have tremendous value for aspiring as well as established managers and entrepreneurs.

The topics comprise desirable attributes and personality variables such as grit, character strengths, and core self-evaluations, how to create positive relationships at work, how employee motivation is created and sustained, how to find meaning and purpose in work, and several review articles, e.g., on the connection of positive emotions and job performance. Enjoy!

P.S.
This is my 300. post since I’ve started Mappalicious about two years ago. Giving myself a slight pat on the back right now…

Positive Psychology at the Movies: Character Strengths in “Love Actually”

Positive Psychology at the MoviesOne of the central concepts in Positive Psychology is the framework of 24 character strengths that have been outlined by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman in their 2004 tome. It was the foundation for the VIA Institute on Character – where you can take a test (for free) to find out what your top strengths are.

Ryan Niemiec, VIA´s Education Director, has published the book Positive Psychology at the Movies. It examines nearly 1,500 movies with regard to their display of the 24 character strengths throughout their plots. Frankly, so far I did not have the time to watch all of those movies – but considering general life expectancy, I will be able to so until I´m grey and old (don´t know where Ryan finds the time, considering how many books he publishes).

Anyway, I had an idea: instead of trying to find all of the character strengths throughout a ton of movies – would it be possible to find them all in just one? Therefore, I picked one of my all-time favorites, romantic (Christmas) comedy Love Actually, watched it for the hundredth time (or so…) – but for once, looked through the eyes of the VIA taxonomy. And tadaaa: I was able to spot all of them, even though I have to admit that two or three of the attributions may seem somewhat debatable.

Here´s what I´ve found:

  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Karen displays perspective and humor when cheering up Daniel as he mourns for departed wife.
  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Harry the Boss displays social intelligence and leadership when confronting his employee Sarah about her being in love with co-worker Carl.
  • Little Sam displays honesty and bravery when telling his step father Daniel about being in love with Joanna.
  • Little Sam displays spirituality when he tells his father about how he believes in love and that there’s one true love out there for each and every one of us.
  • Prime Minister David displays humor when he tries to cheer up Natalie after she told him how bad she has been treated by her ex-boyfriend.
  • The Prime Minister displays prudence and judgment when, at first, he does not want to confront the U.S. delegation during the meeting with U.K. ministers.
  • The Prime Minister displays leadership, humor, and bravery when confronting the POTUS at the press conference.
  • Jamie displays love of learning and perseverance when trying to learn Portuguese in order to be able to talk to Aurelia.Love Actually - Billy Mack
  • Colin displays zest, curiosity, hope, and bravery when deciding to leave the UK for Wisconsin.
  • Mark displays kindness, great honesty, love, and bravery when meeting Juliet at her house on Christmas Eve to confess his love, but also his approval of her living with Peter. (By the way, this is probably my all-time favorite movie scene).
  • Karen displays self-regulation and judgment when pulling herself together on Christmas Day after having found out Harry has cheated on her – in order not to spoil Christmas for their kids.
  • Sarah displays fairness and (the capacity to) love (and be loved) when spending Christmas together with her mentally ill brother.
  • John displays gratitude after having been kissed by “Just Judy” for the first time.
  • The school orchestra/choir displays teamwork when performing at the Christmas concert.
  • The whole audience displays appreciation of beauty and excellence when witnessing young Joanna sing “All I want for Christmas” at the school’s Christmas celebration.
  • Little Sam displays perseverance, and bravery when running to say good-bye to his love Joanna at the airport.
  • Jamie displays hope, bravery, and love when he leaves his family’s Christmas party to spontaneously board a plane to ask Portuguese housemaid Aurelia to marry him.
  • Billy Mack displays humility and gratitude when deciding to return to Joe, his ugly manager, instead of spending Christmas Eve at Elton John´s party.
  • Karen displays forgiveness when she consolingly welcomes her husband Harry at the airport after he has betrayed her.

What´s your favorite movie – and are you maybe going to see it with different eyes in the future?

In Memory of Chris Peterson…

Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Chris Peterson in person. He died before I entered the MAPP program at Penn. But everyone I meet who knew him speaks very highly of him, highlighting his good nature and humor. I guess it comes alive again in his writing.

And it makes me (sort of) proud, that, while speaking about Positive Psychology at a conference in Munich some days ago, the photographer took a shot right in the moment where I talked about Chris Peterson´s signature line “Other People Matter“…

Dr. Nico Rose - Other People Matter

Picture source: Haufe Gruppe

 

March 20 is International Happiness Day! Join our virtual Conference feat. +30 Positive Psychology Experts

International_Happiness_Day_2015Ever since 2012, March 20 is UN´s International Happiness Day. All around the world, people will celebrate and host events to educate their fellow human beings on all things happiness, well-being, and flourishing.

And I´m in as well – as part of a Virtual Happiness Conference. 32 fellow Penn Mappsters were interviewed on their favorite Positive Psychology subject, among them a lot of people you might already know because they were featured on Mappalicious in one way or the other, e.g. Emilia “Queen of Sisu” Lahti. All in all, there´s more than 24 hours of video material available.

All content will be online for free until March 26. After that, you can purchase the videos. Every cent will go to the Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship which helps future students to afford attending Penn´s MAPP program.

As for my part: I was interviewed by the fabulous Lisa Sansom on the role of Positive Psychology in coaching, the subject of Self-Permission, and the “German way” of Positive Psychology. This is the link to the conference site.

Enjoy – and please share to good news!

International Happiness Day Experts

Other People Matter: 2 Videos featuring the late Christopher Peterson

Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Prof. Christopher Peterson, who died before I really discovered the field of Positive Psychology and applied for the MAPP program at Penn. But all the people (I know) that had the privilege to be taught be by him speak most highly of “Chris”.

Therefore, I was glad to discover these two short video yesterday where he elaborates on his personal take on Positive Psychology. Enjoy!

If you like what you´ve seen, you might also enjoy The Good Life, a Positive Psychology blog that Chris used to write for Psychology Today.

On “Liebe und Arbeit” (Love and Work)

Two days ago, I stumbled upon this (anonymous…?) quote on the net:

Work until you no longer nedd to introduce yourself

Or rather, the quote consisted only of the first sentence – and I found it necessary to add the second. Sigmund Freud once wrote that “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Freud has written a lot of nonsense in his lifetime – but I think here, he´s right on the spot. Obviously, this is not to say that other aspects of life are not important (such as play and recreation). But a lot of people these days spend a least half of their waking hours at work, which also means that we spend most of our time (because that includes our free time) in the presence of other people. That´s why the late Christopher Peterson used to say Other People Matter when asked for a short definition of Positive Psychology. It´s pretty straightforward. I guess most people would agree that our loved ones and friends are one of the most important sources of happiness in our lives – we don´t need Positive Psychology for this insight (even though they can also be an important source of grieve).

But what about work? Isn´t work a constant source of stress and discomfort for most of us? After all, surveys such as the Gallup Engagement Index regularly show that the greater part of the workforce are not really engaged in their current job. While this finding most likely is based on different causations, I propose that a very important one is a lack of fit between the person and the attributes of a job. That´s why I felt a need to add a second sentence to the above-mentioned quote. While I like the general idea, “becoming (more or less) famous” is a prime example of an extrinsic goal – and pursuing these has been shown to be detrimental to our well-being.

We all need to find something that we like to do irrespective of the (external) consequences. This is the most important learning from Self-Determination Theory and adjacent theories like the Self-Concordance Model. We have to find work that we would do even without being paid. I know that this a “moonshot goal” for most people as things are today – but it´ll be the key to lasting productivity and (workplace) happiness in the future.

Positive Psychology: Standing on which Giants` Shoulders?

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Standing on a Lego GiantThe aforesaid quote from the Bible reminds us that we all are standing on the shoulders of giants in one way or another. While Positive Psychology as a science is a fairly new development within the greater framework of psychological science (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), its roots can be traced back at least 2,500 years in time. In this essay, I intend to express how the research and practice of positive psychology has been and still is continuously informed by philosophy. I will do so by way of three examples: first and most circumstantial, the notion that our thinking is a powerful intermediary between the “world out there” and our experience of that world; second, the idea that living a life according to certain virtues is accompanied by an elevated level of psychological well-being; and third, the framework of positivity ratios in human development.

Is Buddha the architect of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

We are most likely the only mammals alive that can develop symptoms such as a depressive disorder (Sapolsky, 1998). Our superior ability to remember the past (Baddeley, 1998) and unique capability to prospect into the future (Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, & Sripada, 2013) have made us a very successful species – but also prone to psychological malfunctioning in case these “tools” are used improperly. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Beck, 1995) posits that “the poison and the cure” for many of these malfunctions can be traced back to our thinking processes. In his seminal book “Learned optimism”, Seligman (1991) writes: “The way we think about this realm of life can actually diminish or enlarge the control we have over it. Our thoughts are not merely reactions to events; they change what ensues” (pp. 15-16).

This notion can be traced back (at least) all the way to Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha. In the Dhammapada (1. verse, 1. chapter, n.d.) he is cited with the words: “All mental phenomena are preceded by mind. Mind is their master, they are produced by mind.” Similar phrases that either point to the notion that the “thing itself” acquires its meaning only via the human mind, or that man is the master of his own fate by controlling his thoughts, can be found in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy (Epictetus: “In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.”; from Discourses, chapter 1, n.d.; similar quotes by Marcus Aurelius can be found). About 1,500 years later, Shakespeare (n.d.) puts equivalent words into Hamlet´s mouth in the second act of the second scene: “[…] there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Another 300 years later, there is a related quote by Gandhi (n.d.): “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” And finally, before becoming part of the scientific discourse in clinical psychology, the idea of “mind over matter” was propagated by new-age and self-help writers such as Dale Carnegie (1981): “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

Nowadays, the influence of mental processes on our well-being is a well-documented scientific fact. It is the foundation of clinical interventions such as the “ABCDE” tool in CBT (Wells, 1997), as well as most positive (psychology) interventions (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Therefore, it is safe to say that this branch of psychology was heavily informed by the aforementioned philosophers and writers of the past, especially when taking into account that Martin Seligman, one of positive psychology´s founding fathers, earned a bachelor´s degree in philosophy at Princeton before turning his mind towards psychology (Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, n.d.).

A Touch of Aristotle

The aforementioned educational background of Martin Seligman might also (partially) explain the strong presence of another “godfather of philosophy”, namely Aristotle. One of the first hallmark projects after the founding of positive psychology was the creation of a compendium of 24 human strengths that group into 6 overarching virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Aristotle is mentioned 23 times in that textbook. Among other sages of his time, Aristotle proposed that a life worthwhile of living should entail the presence of Eudaimonia which can loosely be translated into the English term “flourishing”. In Aristotle´s opinion, the key to experiencing eudaimonia is leading one´s life according to certain virtues, where a virtue is seen as the middle point between two vices (e.g., courage lies between cowardice and daredevilry). In light of the frequent references to Aristotle it can be assumed that Peterson and Seligman´s idea of character strengths and virtues was heavily influenced by the Greek philosopher. Over the recent years, some evidence on the connection between the presence of character strengths and well-being has been gathered. While not all of the 24 strengths display a distinct correlation with variables such as life satisfaction, concepts such as hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity seem to be present more often in people that report high levels of psychological well-being (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).

From defining “the Positive” to Systems Intelligence

In addition to standing on the shoulders of bygone giants, positive psychology is also heavily influenced by contemporary philosophers such as Schneider (2001) and Pawelski (2012). Both researchers aid the scientific study of well-being, for instance, by trying to define (and refine) important constructs in positive psychology. By way of example: when the discipline was founded at the onset of the third millennium, it was not utterly clear, e.g., what the term “positive” in positive psychology is actually referring to. 15 years later, we have made some progress pertaining to that question. Pawelski (2012) points out that the “positive” in positive psychology cannot just be the absence of something negative. (Psychological) well-being cannot be explained by looking at what is not there (e.g., unhappiness, mental illness). In recent years, this viewpoint also receives more and more empirical support (Huppert & Whittington, 2003).

Yet, philosophers do not only refine the methodology of positive psychology – they also convey valuable impulses for psychological phenomena to be explored and possible interventions in the context of these phenomena. For instance, an issue that has received a lot of attention in positive psychology is the notion of “positivity ratios”. Fredrickson and Losada (2005) argue that it is possible to enter into an upward spiral of well-being when one manages to experience a significant surplus of positive over negative emotions. While it remains unclear up to now where the exact “tipping point” lies (Brown, Sokal, & Friedman, 2013), there remains a lot of evidence for the idea that, in order for a person to flourish, he or she has to experience positive emotions considerably more often than negative feelings (Fredrickson, 2013). Interestingly, this does not only hold true for a person´s “internal emotional chemistry” but also for the chemistry between two people. John Gottman, one of the world´s most renowned researchers on the subject of marriage was repeatedly able to show that a marriage flourishes when the interactions between the spouses display a ratio of approximately 5:1 in favor of positive (micro-) interactions (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998).

This need for a distinct positivity bias in daily life is also proposed by a contemporary philosopher from Finland, Esa Saarinen. He and his coworkers posit that one way to achieve human flourishing is the development of systems intelligence which is defined as “intelligent behaviour in the context of complex systems involving interaction and feedback” (Luoma, Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2010, p. 1). An important framework within systems intelligence is the notion of “Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance” (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2008, p. 824). These systems can be regarded as a downward spiral in personal interactions because “there is a bias in human mental constitution to be more aware of the contributions others fail to make to me than of the contributions I fail to make to others” (p. 824). The framework seems to mirror important aspects of the research on positivity ratios in positive psychology.

In light of the distinct overlaps between philosophy and the research and practice of positive psychology, it is therefore reasonable to assume these two disciplines will continue to cross-fertilize in the arena of human interaction. And one day, maybe, there will be something new under our sun.

References

  • Baddeley, A. (1998). Human memory. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Beck, J. S. (1995). Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond. New York:  Guilford Press.
  • Brown, N. J., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2013). The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68(9), 801-813.
  • Carnegie, D. (1981). How to win friends and influence people (revised edition). Retrieved from: http://freewebeducation.org/pdfs/HowToWinFriendsAndInfluencePeople.pdf
  • Epictetus: (n.d.). Discourses. Retrieved from: http://www.bartleby.com/100/715.html
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios. American Psychologist, 68(9), 814-822.
  • Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.
  • Gandhi (n.d.). Mahatma Gandhi quotes. Retrieved from: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi
  • Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 5-22.
  • Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2008). Systems intelligence – the way forward? A note on Ackoff’s ‘why few organizations adopt systems thinking’. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 25(6), 821-825.
  • Huppert, F. A., & Whittington, J. E. (2003). Evidence for the independence of positive and negative well‐being: Implications for quality of life assessment. British Journal of Health Psychology, 8(1), 107-122.
  • Luoma, J., Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2010). Acting with systems intelligence: Integrating complex responsive processes with the systems perspective. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 62(1), 3-11
  • Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619.
  • Pawelski, J. (2012). Happiness and its opposites. In S. David, I. Boniwell, & A. C. Ayers (Eds.), Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 326-336). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania (n.d). Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman’s Curriculum Vitae. Retrieved from: http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/vitae.htm#Degrees
  • Sapolsky, R. (1998). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York: Freeman.
  • Schneider, S. L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned optimism. NewYork: Knopf.
  • Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: an introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 119-141.
  • Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
  • Shakespeare, W. (n.d). Hamlet. Retrieved from: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.2.2.html
  • Wells, A. (1997). Cognitive therapy of anxiety disorders: A practice manual and conceptual guide. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

 

Picture Source

Are you short on Willpower and Self-Regulation? These Apps can help You…

Good Habit MakerIf you are like most people, willpower and self-regulation may not exactly be among your top strengths. E.g., for most of us, self-regulation is located pretty close to the bottom of the list when filling in the VIA questionnaire on 24 character strengths – which is based on Seligman´s and Peterson´s book Character Strengths and Virtues.

But then, breaking or making habits is one of the most important tasks when trying to succeed at a personal change project. So lo and behold! There´s help on the way. In earlier days, people would tie a knot in their handkerchiefs to help them remember things. These days, people don´t use handkerchiefs that much – but most of us do have a smartphone (or two…). And of course, there´s lots of apps around that strive on the fact that our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Balanced AppHere, I´d like to introduce you to three app that I´ve started using at the onset of the year:

On New Year´s Eve, I´ve decided I´d like to become a “nicer” person this year. It´s not that I´m an asshole right now – I just thought I could put a little extra effort in it. Probably a “side effect” of being in the MAPP program…

OK. The Good Habit Maker is a nice little (free) app that does only one thing: at pre-selected intervals over the day, it’ll push one sentence to your smartphone´s screen, e.g. your personal change mantra. Helps a lot to bring your mind back to what you want to achieve during busy schedules.

Grid Diary AppThe app Balanced is a little more refined, it´s a sort of task manager. You can enter specific tasks that you want to accomplish, and the quantities/intervals you intend to fulfill (e.g., “watch a TED talk once a week”). The app will then continuously remind you to complete those tasks until they are done. It also keeps track of you levels of completion and timeliness. There´s a demo version that is limited to a small number of tasks – the full version comes at $ 2.99.

And finally, the Grid Diary: as the name suggests, it´s a nice and clean diary app. The useful twist: you can pre-select (or enter your own…) specific questions. So instead of having to think about what to write each and every evening, the app will make you respond to the prompts that you specifically chose to be given. By way of example, I use it as a gratitude journal, which is one of the pre-eminent interventions in Positive Psychology. It´s free but offers some in-app purchases.

Enjoy! Keep it going! And for some extra energy, power up your Sisu!